As the festive season approaches take the opportunity while you and your garden are taking a well earned rest to put some winter colour in the house.
Poinsettia pulcherimas are superbly colourful, popular but rather strange decorative plants (members of the Euphorbia family) originating from Mexico and interestingly named after the US Ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett who was a Physician and Botanist .They need more dark than many plants, a bit like rhubarb. Its called Periodicity in flowering plants caused by a chemical protein, a sort of photo receptor which senses night changes in length that will decide when the plants flower or in the case of Pointsettias the bracts become coloured bright red. They are really grown as annuals so once they start shedding their leaves don’t bother to keep them!
Try planting some winter hardy bulbs in your flower beds before the ground gets too hard. You can’t beat alpine cyclamens – reasonably priced too. Hyacinths are on sale for indoor colour but you can also plant out hyacinths if they have been correctly prepared by the growers. This involves a higher temperature speeding up process, followed by low temperature for six weeks, so do check before buying.
If you are thinking of buying some plants for winter or spring (I do enjoy forward planning, it makes winter less dreary) have a good explore round local garden centres and on-line. There are some superb bulk offers of bulb/corms. Winter bulbs must be planted in well drained gritty soil in a sunny aspect and can be a wonderful addition of colour to many parts of the garden. Do it soon! It’s worth planning ahead to add bulbs to spring lawns, edges and bedding, especially good for early spring rockery colour.
Look for (fragrant) daffodils (narcissus), leucojums, ornithogalums, chinodoxias and tulips (all lily family) as well as early iris bulbs. Anemone blanda (ranunculous family) produce small but pretty blue and white daisies. Plant corms now, they bring welcome long-lasting spring colour. Bellis (daisy) and violas (viola) will also add cheery colour for the coming season.
Early colour spring plants such as heathers (ericaceous) are best planted in containers with acid soil.
Evergreen Ilex – Holly with Christmas red berries is a good shrub to have in a container even to plant out if the soil is still warm. Not forgetting winter Japanese laurel which can be self fertile but if not available buy a male and female together. Sarcococca (box family) is available now – wonderfully fragrant and happy in the shade, also Osmanthus (oleaceae) a small holly-like very attractive shrub. The very fragrant yellow Coronilla, an easy to grow leguminous shrub, is a cheery sight, still to be found flowering at this time of year.
Enjoy all the colours of the winter berries, the red and white Cornus and Salix (willow) stems, but try not to begrudge birds their tasty feast. I had a Solanum with many attractive orange red berries; I now have a Solanum with just a few unripe berries but a very happy blackbird.
Birds depend on us all during difficult weather conditions, so do ensure there is appropriate food for them, not just in dispensers but also for the ground feeders, blackbirds, thrushes, robins etc. Thrushes are on the endangered list now and they love what gardeners don’t, snails and slugs. It will help if we can leave the garden a bit more relaxed and untidy, so plenty of leaves, broken branches, bits of moss etc. as this will generate a food chain of over-wintering insects that ground feeding birds require very desperately in cold snaps!
Hibernating animals are many more than we realise, so try to leave habitats such as piles of leaves perhaps retained by some branches or under some spreading low ground cover branches e.g. cotoneaster. Hedgehogs are desperate at this time of the year so check they can get from garden to garden through a small hole in the fence. This is really important for them to travel to find winter habitats.
Wishing all you gardeners around the world a very restful Christmas or Festive season and perhaps a small prayer to be thankful for what wonderful gardens we have been given to enjoy and to look forward to another treasured year of growing opportunities.
The gardeners’ new year IN THE UK starting on 22nd December with the daylight getting longer again so double happy new year to you all this month .